FQ 35: What does the word “ummi” mean when it is used for the Holy Prophet (ﷺ)
Answer: Allah Ta’ala has made the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom. In Surah A’araaf, Allah Ta’ala has described one attribute of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) i.e. “Ummi.” Some people have taken it as meaning “illiterate” when the Imams of Tafseer (interpretation of the Holy Quran) have written that it is a great miracle of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) that in spite of being “Ummi,” He (ﷺ) is the fountain of all the logical and spiritual sciences.
The word “Ummi” is from “Umm” meaning mother. This means that the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) did not learn anything from the creation. The Lord Almighty Allah Ta’ala Himself taught Him and granted Him all the sciences of the world.
The sermonizers of Arabia would give a sermon, when they would repeat it, they would add something to it or delete from it. The greatness of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) would recite the verses of the Holy Quran, He (ﷺ) would recite them without any change. Allah Ta’ala says:
(O Esteemed Beloved!) We shall teach you (in a way) that nothing shall you (ever) forget, Surah A’ala (87:6)
Allama Shihabuddin Abdullah Hussaini Alusi (May Allah shower His mercy on him) writes in the Tafseer of Ruh Al Ma’ani:
Translation: By granting the attribute of “Ummi” to the Holy Prophet (ﷺ), Allah Ta’ala is revealing that it is great miracle that in spite of not learning from anybody from among the creation, He (ﷺ) is perfect in all kinds of knowledge.
Thus, “Ummi” (I offer my mother and father for you) is a praiseworthy attribute and for others, this attribute is blameworthy. This attribute is like pride. Pride is a form of praise for Allah Ta’ala and condemnable in others.
On the occasion of the treat of Hudaibiyah, the Quraish objected to the words “Muhammad Rasulullah” in the treaty and insisted that “Muhammad Bin Abdullah” be used instead. The Holy Prophet (ﷺ) asked Hadhrat Ali (May Allah be well pleased with him) to rub off “Muhammad Rasulullah” and write “Muhammad Bin Abdullah” in its place. Out of respect, Hadhrat Ali (May Allah be well pleased with him) excused himself: I cannot rub off this blessed name.” Then the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) rubbed it off and wrote “Ibn Abdullah” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 4731).
This shows that the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) knew reading and writing and is the fountainhead of all logical and spiritual sciences.
And Allah The Most Merciful and The Most Beneficent knows best.
Mufti Syed Ziauddin Naqshbandi Qadri
[Professor, Islamic Law, Jamia Nizamia,
Founder-Director, Abul Hasanaat Islamic Research Center]